Tabling emotions has never been a strong suit for Vol Nation. Tennessee football will stick with people who may have bought good will much longer than they should, and they’ll also make exceptions for such people.
Phillip Fulmer is one of those people. In 2017, after the John Currie and Greg Schiano disaster, the Vols allowed Fulmer to implement a coup and take over as athletic director despite no qualifications for the job.
Just over three years later, Fulmer was forced to fire his signature hire, Tennessee football head coach Jeremy Pruitt, due to serious NCAA violations. However, the university allowed him to “retire” with a severance package.
That was a mistake. Ross Dellenger of SI.com and a special report from the NCAA reveal that while four former UT assistants have reached a resolution for show-cause penalties with the league, there are still matters to resolve.
Pruitt himself is one of those matters as is former UT defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley. However, the school has also failed to reach a resolution, and all signs point to the fact that they disagree with the NCAA’s position of lack of institutional control.
Moving on from Fulmer in a ceremonial fashion is hurting their case. The Vols’ point is that they acted swiftly and got rid of everybody involved. However, that should have meant throwing Fulmer under the bus.
Look, Pruitt was only as dirty as Fulmer allowed him to be. What he did as a head coach is completely irrelevant to the situation. To make the proper case that the administration deserves no blame, they should have cut bait with everybody in the same fashion.
Instead, emotions crept in. It was too painful to publicly humiliate a coach who won Tennessee football its only national championship of the modern era. Nobody wanted a repeat of 2008, when he was forced out as the head coach by Mike Hamilton.
However, attempting to avoid that may have caused them more problems. Fulmer coveted the AD role. He made the wrong hire, and he allowed the wrong hire to commit those violations. Nobody owes him anything. What he did during that time is on him.
The university should have known that Fulmer was a bad choice for AD from the start to be fair. At the time of his hire, which was a coup after he was given the special advisor role when everybody knew he wanted a job, he actually did have a bit of a track record.
That track record was failure. Fulmer was an advisor to East Tennessee State University as they revived their football program and had a hand in the Buccaneers hiring Carl Torbush as head coach.
All of this was in 2014. A week after UT named Fulmer AD, Torbush retired with an 11-22 record in three seasons with the ETSU Bucs. He was a failure and a direct reflection on Fulmer.
Nonetheless, the university pushed through his promotion anyway, to its own detriment. Then, out of affection for his run as a head coach, they lessened the public blow of what was clearly them forcing him out.
Loyalty to Fulmer has cost Tennessee football on multiple occasions now. Regardless of how anybody feels about what he did in the 1990s, it’s time to accept he bought too much good will from then.
To say that the hiring of Carl Torbush at East Tennessee State was a failure is ridiculous. He had to start a football program from scratch and compete against long-standing established programs. The foundation he established helped lead to the later success under Randy Sanders.
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